Director of Services for the district's Technology Department, Patti Jones, was the first to speak to members, providing an introduction regarding the newly applied program, thanking members for their previous approval and support in allowing the different campuses to utilize textbook money, in addition to funds available in the technology budget, to purchase more than 200 computer notebooks to be used at the elementary, middle and high school level. Every student in each of the three fourth-grade classrooms, as well as youth in four science classrooms and one history classroom in grades five through 12, which covers the school's middle and high school campuses, has full access to the new technology tools, according to Jones, and educators in those rooms are moving forward rapidly with immediately incorporating the devices as the main source of classroom delivering and receiving curriculum on a daily basis.
Although Jones has blazed a trail for this small rural school district and coordinated the effort among all of the participating campuses, on Tuesday, she gave the floor and majority of credit to the teachers involved with the project. To prepare for the transition of going from textbook to computer, the teachers involved in the pilot program attended professional development training within the last year which included a week-long workshop attended in the summer, and countless before-and-after-school hours in and outside of the classroom.
The teachers responsible for launching this program within the district include Tammy Kelly, Kristi Anderson and Tara Crafton, who represent the fourth grade classrooms; Alicia Walton, Tonya Galyean who represent the middle school's science courses in grades five through eight; and Leslie Johnson, Leann Jones and Sheila Adams, who teach science, math and history classes at the high school level.
Each of these teachers were present during the board meeting and took the floor to explain the overall goal behind introducing the new technology resources to their students, which included the hope that students would become more engaged and interested in learning the material being presented to them through so many platforms that would not have been available in one textbook. With the Internet, educators are able to fine-tune lesson plans and offer alternative examples to students in helping them achieve a greater understanding of what they are being taught. One method of instruction, may not always work for every student, so the Internet and its multitude of educational websites and resources helps teachers better prepare their curriculum and get students actively engaged in assignments.
Leann Jones told board members that she is off and running with the new technology and that it has totally streamlined her classroom in a way that allows both she and her students to operate more efficiently. For example, her paper usage in class has dropped dramatically, so much in fact, that it is almost "extinct."
"We have not used paper in our classroom since returning from Christmas break," Jones said. "Everything is available on the laptops, whether it be the actual material we are introducing or studying, or the assignments my students are expected to do as homework, test preparation, or class discussion."
Speaking of class discussion, although it still exists, it operated now more in regard to open communication between both the students and the teacher in terms of the lesson or subject being taught, rather than being focused on what plans for the weekend a group of friends have or who broke up with who because they started dating. Nearly all of the outside talking within the classroom has been eliminated since the laptops have been brought in, Jones said. If the students are talking it is around their 4-person pod station and its usually about something to do with the class work or material they are reviewing. The students also communicate with one another and their teacher through the program being used to deliver and receive the instruction.
A secure social networking site called "Edmodo" is being utilized in the piloting process for this program, according to Jones and the other teachers who describe the user interface as being very similar to the popular networking site Facebook. Perhaps its because the one of the guy's who created Edmodo is an ex-employee of the multi-million dollar company turned phenomenon all across the world.
Through Edmodo, teachers and students can navigate their way around lesson plans, homework assignments, critical thinking tests, quizzes, examinations, and more. They can participate in class polls and host discussions, create a personal profile, check their grades and instant message each other or their teacher about an assignment or area of study. All of the controls are under the supervision of the educator, and they decide what can be posted or accessed by students. There is an additional feature for parents that can be activated, allowing them to log on and see what is taking place inside their child's classroom. Under this feature, a parent is unable to post comments or communicate in anyway with anyone other than the teacher, however, it is an excellent extension to communication between the two parties, according to Jones and other staff members, such as Sheila Adams.
Adams told board members that in the beginning stages of planning to launch this project, she was one of the most reluctant. Adams is one of the most tenured teachers on campus, and like many, was used to the "old school" approach in doing things. However, today, she is a new woman self-proclaimed as intermediate or advanced when it comes to this type of technology, and its something she is both grateful for and proud of.
"I've come a long way with this and so have my students," Adams told board members. "There are simply so many benefits to using the technology, there is no reason to not get on board."
As explained previously, in an interview with the Daily Dunklin Democrat in early February, the teachers involved in the program also pointed out that one of the most convenient aspects of using the computer notebooks versus the old-style text books is the fact that everything students need to receive for an assignment, the research material, to complete the work, to ask for feedback from their teacher, or check when the assignment is due, is all available by logging on to one machine, through Edmodo. The secure networking site being used by the school even offers an added resource to students who may have to miss school because of illness or other miscellaneous reasons. If for some reason a student is absent from school but would like to get a jump-start on their homework so they won't be behind or have a ton of make-up work to complete, they are able to log on to the site conveniently from home or any other location where there is Internet access, even through a smartphone application.
The only drawback teachers suggest anyone could find with the program thus far is addressing the issue of students who do not have Internet access at home. Fortunately, according to Leann Jones, who conducted a student poll in her classrooms, which consisted of high school students, only about 25 percent did not have a home computer or access to the Internet at their main residence. For these students, the teachers are testing out alternative ways to address the issue, including providing additional time in the classroom to complete work.
"Students will never be reprimanded or subject to receiving a bad grade because they do not have home Internet," Jones reassured the board. "We understand, that in some instances, especially living in rural communities as we do, Internet access is not always readily available or consistent, so we do our best to work around these issues."
In addition to the conveniences for students that Edmodo offers, teachers are also enjoying the time-saving features offered to them, which includes online grading. According to the staff members actively using the program, in many cases an assignment is auto-graded almost immediately after being turned in, which saves the teacher time and provides the student with instant feedback and immediate satisfaction when turning in assignments or completing tests in class.
Before the teacher presentation, Superintendent of Schools Larry Wood suggested that he was in full support of the program and had already had the opportunity to visit with several of the teachers who had each provided only positive feedback. After the information was presented to the Board of Education, members Todd Fouts, Robby Shrum, Carl Johnson, Dana Autry, Eddie Lomax and President Byron Small, were all in favor of the technology usage, each indicating that they plan to support the expansion of the program, adding it to additional classrooms within the three school campuses in the near future as funds become available. Board member Kenny Johnson was not present for the meeting, but had expressed an appreciation and interest in and for the effort in previous meetings.
Administration present for the meetings echoed the support of board members. High School Principal Kevin Reddick told his fellow staff members and the board that he has visited classrooms and witnessed the impact that it has already made in the early stages and looks forward to seeing things develop. He also noted that teachers at his campus who have not yet had the opportunity to be involved have already expressed a willingness, if not a true desire to get the ball rolling in their classrooms.
"This is something that several are eagerly waiting to be a part of," Reddick said. "I think there is a consensus among those teachers, and they are ready to launch this technology in their rooms as well."
Once that time comes, and the district is in a position to purchase additional devices, the teachers who originally piloted the program will serve as mentors for newbies to the project, according to Technology Director, Patti Jones.
"That is our plan," she said. "To get this group comfortable and moving forward so that they can in turn share that knowledge and experience with the next group of teachers that becomes involved."